Pomona Peer Theatre Receives National Arts Grant

Pomona Peer Theatre Receives National Arts Grant
Theatre student Elizabeth Zimbrano, right, works with high school students.
Professor Bernardo Solano gives instructions to high school students taking part in the peer theatre program.

A Cal Poly Pomona youth theatre program has received funding to expand its programs for local teens to address youth issues.

The Pomona Peer Theatre program recently received a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant, making it the only university/school district partnership of its kind to receive funding in this grant cycle.

“It's a competitive, nationwide grant, so we're really happy to receive it and raise the profile of the program,” says theatre professor Bernardo Solano, who oversees the program.

The program is a six-year partnership between the Pomona Unified School District and Cal Poly Pomona. High school students meet weekly at the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center to work on their materials under the guidance of Solano and university students. The troupe writes, produces, and performs original plays about teen issues to hundreds of peers.

“There's a benefit for all the students involved,” Solano says. “The university students get a total immersion into youth-based, issue-based theatre. They're involved in a huge service-learning project that's not just theoretical, but in the field. The high school students are given a lot of freedom to create a play about themselves and their issues. That's very empowering because they're involved from day one. These are issues they care about.”

Many of the students in Peer Theatre come from difficult backgrounds and use theatre as a method to express themselves. The youths write plays based on their own experiences and include difficult subjects like incest, date-rape, gang violence and suicide.

This year's play, which has been in development since the beginning of the school year, will address abuse. By winter, rehearsals take place in preparation for performances in spring. The plays are premiered at the Peer Resources Summit, and then staged at the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center and in schools throughout the Pomona Unified School District.